Opinion: It’s time to embrace write-in candidates for internal party elections

libdemwriteinAre our internal party elections really democratic enough?  We should ask this question because we want our party to maximise the talents of the wider membership and broaden the pool of candidates standing for party bodies.

We clearly value democracy and democratic process on all internal party matters.  But when we look at our internal party elections, can we truly say that we are offering the maximum possible choice to our members?  And, indeed, are members encouraged to stand, or even provided with enough information as to how to do so?

After discussing the matter with many conference-goers last week, it emerged that many felt we could do more.

The solution, a significant number agreed, is fairly simple: write-in candidates. For the uninitiated, this means electors being able to write the name of a favoured un-nominated candidate on the ballot paper.

At the moment, this method is used almost exclusively in the USA, but don’t let that put you off.  Past write-in campaign winners include Franklin D Roosevelt and John F Kennedy.

In these cases, the system trusted the people to choose an alternative and people voted en-masse for excellent candidates.  Perhaps more importantly, it has enabled candidates to stand (and win) when their nomination has been rejected, or made it possible to react to a change in stance from an existing nominee, after the closure of nominations.

Ultimately, this is about trusting us, as party members, to make the right choices. Let’s further empower ourselves. Let’s make our party even more democratic.

Let’s embrace write-in candidates for internal elections.

Note: follow us on on Twitter @LDWriteIn and email [email protected] to pledge support for the campaign.

* Matt Hemsley, Dan Murch, Tom Stubbs and Max Wilkinson are the Co-chairs of Lib Dem Write In

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This entry was posted in Op-eds.


  • Julian Tisi 13th Oct '14 - 9:40am

    Do you have an example from our internal elections of a candidate having their nomination rejected where they ought to have been able to stand? I presume that nominations get rejected if either a) they don’t have enough people nominiating them (in which case, why should we expect them to win) or b) there’s some reason why they’re not eligible to stand. Is there any other reason?

    Can’t say I’m violently against this idea but I’m not convinced it rights some big wrong.

  • The system proposed does seem like a good idea. However, at the present time, with the Party in such a shambles, it seems to me that we might be better off discussing the external democratic policies it should support in order to raise the popularity of the Party.

    There has been a growing acceptance that Osborne has run the economy, during his tenure at the Treasury, for the benefit of the multinationals – not the people. With the latest opinion poll [Survation] showing the combined popularity of the coalition parties at 38% [31+7%] is it democratic that Osborne is allowed to sell public assets without some approval from the people?

    “George Osborne is to announce on Monday that the government is selling its 40% stake in Eurostar before the election.”

    “The sale will lead to a small reduction in Britain’s £1.4tn national debt but will not affect the government’s preferred measure of the budget deficit, public sector net borrowing.

    Other state-owned assets being lined up for sale include the legacy Royal Mail pension assets, the uranium enrichment company Urenco, the income-contingent student loan book and further public sector wireless communication spectrum.”


  • I think we should all Write-In Tom Stubbs for President. I know he would love it if we did ; )

  • @ Simon Shaw

    Simon, from your response it does not sound if you agree that Cameron/Osborne are governing the nation for the benefit of corporate interests – rather than the people. Keep in mind that Osborne is a very regular Bilderberg [the bankers and global corporations club] attendee, remember how much was lost the sale of Royal Mail and the profits made by City institutions – a route to be followed on these new sell offs.

    Then consider these two reports from the Tory supporting Mail:

    Top bosses’ pay soars 20% while staff feel the squeeze: Boardroom executives at FTSE100 companies now earn average of £2.4million


    HMRC’s tax clampdown… on ordinary workers: Number of court cases up by almost a third but taxman is still accused of letting corporate giants off the hook


    Tycoons worth £22billion at Tory fundraising ball: Secret table plan reveals how guests were placed next to ministers whose portfolios were linked to financial interests


    Whereas we may have had incompetent governments in the past that managed the nation’s finances badly – this is quite different, here we have very good reasons to be suspicious that Cameron/Osborne are governing the nation for the benefit of corporate interest – and against the interests of the nation and its people [a suspicion that the Mail seems to share].

  • Rabi Martins 13th Oct '14 - 11:55am

    As someone who has spent his entire time in the Party looking for ways to increase BME representation in elected offices – both internal elections and elections to public office – MPs – Councillors etc I think this concept of Write In candidates is worth exploring further
    Our current system is restrictive in that it is self selecting That does not necessarily mean we get the best person for the job
    So how can we take this novel idea forward ? We could start by electing a Party President who is prepared to take on fresh radical ideas – Linda Jack ?

  • Gwyn Williams 13th Oct '14 - 12:35pm

    The Young Liberals used to allow write-in candidates. Gandalf the Grey used to poll regularly and well.

  • @ Simon Shaw

    One of us might have a problem Simon – but I am not sure it is me.

    Clearly, from your reply you are supportive of these developments [I noted that you did not mention ‘Tycoons worth £22billion at Tory fundraising ball: Secret table plan reveals how guests were placed next to ministers whose portfolios were linked to financial interests’]. I would have thought that a suspicion shared by the Guardian and the Mail indicated there was reason to be concerned – perhaps you would be kind enough to inform me what part of the MSM that you trust [and not owned by a global corporation].

    I also assume that you are positively salivating at the prospect of the TTIP being agreed by the EU – given your wholehearted support for, primarily, US global corporations and their executives making huge profits and bonuses.

    This transatlantic trade deal is a full-frontal assault on democracy:

    The purpose of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership is to remove the regulatory differences between the US and European nations. I mentioned it a couple of weeks ago. But I left out the most important issue: the remarkable ability it would grant big business to sue the living daylights out of governments which try to defend their citizens. It would allow a secretive panel of corporate lawyers to overrule the will of parliament and destroy our legal protections. Yet the defenders of our sovereignty say nothing. {more here]


  • paul barker 13th Oct '14 - 1:05pm

    This sounds like a good idea to me, I cant see any objections.
    Once again, a comment thread with no Women & less than half the comments actually responding to the subject.

  • paula keaveney 13th Oct '14 - 1:33pm

    Goodness me. Where to start??? This is a terrible idea for all sorts of reasons.
    Firstly, the federal and other committees are there to do jobs of work that can be tough and that require determination, commitment and so on. Are we really saying that the hurdle of the mighty handful of signatures and a piece of artwork is deterring /preventing brilliant would-be committee members? I want those on these committees to have initiative and drive and frankly it is not hard to find out the rules, get the signatures and do the rest. (There is an issue about the committees publishing more details more often about likely meeting dates – but that is not what is being complained of here)

    Secondly, let’s say nominations have closed and the ballot paper and artwork is all finalised. A write in candidate will not have their material with the other candidates stuff. This means any campaign around an individual is going to take a lot more effort than those of nominated candidates. Will it cost money? Who is going to do the work? Surely if a write in candidate was that keen they would have got themselves nominated in the first place. And obviously a write in candiate can’t be bound by the election rules affecting others. So what if a write in wins after placing a full page ad in the Guardian? Does a defeated candidate have the right of appeal?

    I can see how a write in scheme might favour a “celebrity candidate” – someone who has not bothered with nominations but now thinks its worth a go. (Clearly easier to get people to write in a name everyone knows). But isn’t the point of these committees to have people who will do the work and surely getting a nomination sorted is a bit of evidence that you will.

    There may well be an issue around experienced members making sure newer members have ways of getting info re internal elections – but frankly it’s not hard to do so and all it requires is regions or local parties to pop something in a newsletter.

    Rabi is right when he says candidates are self selecting. But all candidates are self selecting up to a point. You may all love them but they have to agree to be a candidate and if that isn’t self selecting I don’t know what is. I don’t think having a write in system would encourage more candidates from any particular group. If anything it is likely to deter as some people may feel the need for an extra campaign and the lack of supporting process makes it harder not easier to win.

    There may be a tiny issue about people whose nominations are invalid on a technicality. It may be that a tidying up rule would help there but I am not sure we should encourage people to fill in papers sloppily because there is “always another go”.

  • * Matt Hemsley, Dan Murch, Tom Stubbs and Max Wilkinson are the Co-chairs of Lib Dem Write In

    To become “Co-chairs” of this organisation, did the four people named above just write in their names?
    Was there an election?
    Is ‘Lib Dem Write In’ an organisation a membership?

    I think we should be told.

  • For what elections were FDR and JFK write-in candidates? Certainly not for election to the Presidency of the United States.

  • Voting is a big enough job, ranking all the people who do want to be elected, without adding all those who don’t want to be elected too.

  • Richard
    I wondered about the reference to the USA myself. I remember some write-in efforts in the 1960s.
    It would appear that the last concerted effort was Ralph Nader in 1992, that is 22 years or five presidential elections ago. It is a practice which has pretty much died a death.

    Here is a list of US Presidential elections in which some sort of write-in has had a omitted role.
    Follow this ink —

    JFK benefited marginally in the early stages in one state. But as Wiki makes very clear most write-ins fail to get elected; so there is the illusion ofvgreater democratic involvement rather than any substance.

    A much more entertaining electoral innovation in the USA in my youth was when the YIPPIES (the Youth Iternational Party) put up a pig as their candidate for president. I think the logic was that all the other parties had candidates who were pigs, so why not a real pig.
    But when I asked an American friend he said he thought it was just a reference to the police.

  • I have tracked down a bit more information on the pig who was a candidate for president of the USA.
    He went by the name of ‘Pigasus’.
    The presidential election was 1968.

    Abbie Hoffman, Jerry Rubin and five other Yippies were arrested by the Chicago police.
    Pigasus the pig was also arrested.
    He was also taken away by the police.
    What happened to him next is disputed.
    One story is that he was eaten by the police.   
    But I think it more likely that he was taken to a farm in Illinois and lived happily ever after,

    The full story is here —

  • Paul in Wokingham 13th Oct '14 - 5:45pm

    While I was living in San Francisco in the 1990’s there was an election for mayor between Willie Brown (the Democrat candidate) and Supervisor Tom Ammiano, who was persuaded to run a write-in campaign after nominations had closed. He came second on write-ins leading to a runoff.

    Ammiano’s campaign platform was to the left of Brown . People might recall that Ammiano was associated with Harvey Milk’s election way back when and his support was centered in The Castro and surrounding areas. I was personally involved in campaigning for Ammiano and the sense of being involved with a grassroots, guerilla campaign against a powerful party machine was incredibly exciting. Ammiano lost the election battle but arguably won the war. The next Mayor was a Green and the Democrats had to take a good hard look in the mirror.

  • The Young Liberals organised a write-in for a cat in a local by-election in, I think, Harrogate in the late 60s. My memory is not what it was so I can’t recall the cat’s name, but I think it polled around 20 votes.

  • tonyhill 13th Oct ’14 – 5:57pm
    The Young Liberals organised a write-in for a cat in a local by-election

    After the merger of the SDP and The Liberal Party, the continuing SDP (David Owen’s lot) handed out free membership to anyone who wrote in and asked for it.
    At the time our local ward Focus had two small Parrots as part of the masthead. I have no idea how this happened but I am told that some local wag wrote in requesting membership of Dr Owen’s splinter party for “Canbury Parrot 1 “. They put my address down.
    So for some years I received regular membership mailings, a membership card, appeals for funds etc etc addressed to Ms Canbury Parrotti.

    One of our members sold the story to The Guardian Diary so a cheque for £25 was added to local party funds.
    As a result of the coverage in TheGuardian the story became a question in that week’s ‘Have I got News For You’.
    I can still remember my delight when Angus Deighton read out the question.

    Steve Harris my fellow ward councillor at the time now lives in Aberdeen.
    He may be abe to provide information as to who priginally wrote on behalf of Ms Parrotti to obtain membership.

  • Mark Valladares Mark Valladares 13th Oct '14 - 7:19pm

    Returning to the subject for a moment…

    I suppose that I have a number of concerns based on my experience as a Returning Officer, including a spell as Liberal Youth’s RO. Paula touches on most of them above. If a candidate can’t get the two nominees required, especially now that scanned signatures are apparently permissible, how might they run a successful write-in campaign?

    Others have touched upon the disadvantage a write-in candidate would have in terms of circulation of material – candidates in internal elections don’t have access to an electoral list.

    No, I’m with Simon and Paula here – what exactly is the problem we’re attempting to solve?

  • Paul Barker – as only the second woman on this thread, I agree with Paula!

  • First, this discussion is, I think, about the write-in idea and not Osbornomics.

    I do see some difficulties. Someone would need to check at the vote counting stage or later whether the person was entitled to stand and any dispute about. say, their last membership payment would hold the whole thing up, all the places on maybe a twelve-member committee. With the normal process, that sort of thing is checked well in advance. And no, we can’t assume the party records never make mistakes.

    Write-in also introduces not unlikely problems where the name written in is not clear or unambiguous. In the last SLF elections there were two candidates called Geoff Payne.

    The process of getting nominations usefully requires the candidate or her/his leading backers to demonstrate a serious commitment by getting around collecting signatures. A write-in candidate might even prove to be uncertain about whether (s)he wanted the position.

    There can be problems in the present system. I understand 200 nominations from voting conference reps are required for candidates for President and there were only about 800 such people at Conference, where the signatures are normally collected., with four entirely credible and serious would-be candidates in the field. But the obvious answer is to lower the number of signatures needed, taking into account party membership and recent Conference attendance figures: after all, I seem to recall that the rules for nomination of candidates for Leader require a proportion rather than a simple number of our MPs to declare support for that person.

  • As seductive as it sounds I have to agree with the analysis that it would be fraught with practical problems. I do however think more need to be done about encouraging new and different people on to our party’s organs of governance.

    Having tried once it was rather an uphill struggle to get noticed, and at the end seemed to be a bit of a case of merry-go-round, where many of the regular folks continue albeit in different roles, I suspect because too few members vote, and those that do are in the same circles as those who stand. Perhaps creating shadowing and mentoring programmes for aspirant committee members might encourage the less well-known and connected to get involved, and bring some well needed diversity into our parties structures.

    Regarding the point about the Presidential campaign, I’m supporting Linda Jack, and we are still happy to welcome nominees, so if anyone would like to be one, drop me a line.

  • Chris Holman 14th Oct '14 - 2:53pm

    Does the move to OMOV & ALL party members being eligible to attend & vote at conference make this idea less necessary?

    We will no longer have “Conference Reps”, so presumably all party members will be eligible to nominate candidates for Party Committees & nomination & voting rights will not be limited to a select few.

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